The US House of Representatives approved an annual defense bill on Friday, but the legislation faced intense scrutiny due to the inclusion of partisan amendments. The bill, which includes a 5.2% pay raise for service members, received support from Republicans who added provisions targeting abortion coverage, diversity initiatives at the Pentagon, and transgender issues. Democrats voted against the package, citing concerns about the erosion of progress made for women, Black people, and other marginalized groups in the military.
Despite sailing through the House Armed Services Committee with almost unanimous approval, the bill was heavily amended during a heated late-night floor debate. The final vote resulted in a 219-210 split, with four Democrats siding with Republicans, and four Republicans opposing the bill. Given the Democrat majority in the Senate, the bill is unlikely to advance further.
While efforts to curtail US funding for Ukraine’s war against Russia were unsuccessful, Republicans successfully added amendments to limit Defense Department diversity initiatives and restrict access to abortions. The abortion issue was championed by Senator Tommy Tuberville, who has been blocking the confirmation of military officers. Republicans claimed their amendments were intended to counter the Biden administration’s “woke” agenda.
This transformation of the must-pass Defense bill into a political battleground highlights the deep divisions within the military on issues related to race, equity, and women’s healthcare. Representative Joyce Beatty expressed her disappointment in the erosion of progress for marginalized groups, while Republican Representative Eli Crane argued against race-based training requirements within the military.
The bill authorizes $874.2 billion in defense spending, aligning with President Joe Biden’s budget request. However, the funding allocation will occur later during the appropriation process. The legislation sets policies for the Defense Department and addresses national security concerns, particularly focusing on China, Russia, and other global threats.
Although several amendments targeting Pentagon policies were approved, including restrictions on transgender healthcare and abortion services, it remains uncertain whether these measures will withstand Senate scrutiny. The bill will undergo review in the Senate, where bipartisan support will be necessary for passage.
The legislative journey of the defense bill was marked by internal disagreements among Republicans, leading to a week-long deliberation before reaching a vote. However, even with House approval, the bill’s future remains uncertain. The Senate, with a Democrat majority, will need to collaborate with Republicans to develop a bipartisan bill that can garner enough support for passage.
Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee, including lead Democrat Representative Adam Smith, initially supported the bill but changed their stance after the addition of controversial social policy amendments. Smith emphasized the importance of diversity initiatives in the military and lamented the bill’s transformation into a platform for bigotry and ignorance.